No King but Caesar

March 22, 1995|By CAL THOMAS

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Just as Republicans are trying to hold together their economic and religious wings through the 1996 elections, there appears to be severe turbulence on the religious side.

At a conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, last weekend called ''Reclaiming America for Christ,'' Republican State Sen. Tim Philpot of Kentucky told the 700 in attendance there is a danger of ''selfishness'' if it appears ''we care only for ourselves.''

In a conversation with me, Mr. Philpot said Republicans are making a mistake by speaking only of tax cuts and saying nothing about the poor and helpless. ''It sounds as if we want to spend the money we save on taxes on ourselves. All Phil Gramm and Bob Dole seem to talk about is money. In effect, they're saying 'it's the economy, stupid,' just like the Clinton people in the 1992 campaign.''

There is more cause for Republican concern. James Dobson, the psychologist who heads the Focus on the Family organization, has threatened the Republican National Committee chairman, Haley Barbour, with a walkout by conservative Christians if a strong pro-life plank is not approved by the GOP convention next summer. Dr. Dobson urged his large radio audience not to support any politician who favors abortion.

The danger for what the press derisively calls the ''Religious Right'' is that they are making the same mistakes the religious left made. To solve the moral problems of the nation they are DTC looking to government rather than to the author of their faith and his strategies.

In ''The Screwtape Letters,'' C.S. Lewis describes the strategy of the devil for corrupting a Christian: ''Let him begin by treating patriotism . . . as part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely a part of the 'cause,' in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce. . . . Once you have made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.''

It seems we have arrived at such a point. Too many members of the Church -- if one may speak of something so fragmented as a monolith -- are seeking a shortcut to righteousness, preferring the way of government to the way of its Savior. Question: Why should a majority accept something they have not seen fully lived out by those who profess to believe?

America's most dangerous diseases have developed an immunity to politics. We suffer not from a failure of political organization or power, but a failure of love. Our most pressing problem isn't the federal deficit, but a deficit of time and attention that parents give their children and each other. In violent streets and broken homes, the cry of anguished souls is not for more laws but for more conscience and character.

The way to transform a nation is not by politics alone. It is not enough to support a welfare-reform bill. We must also mentor the children of poverty who live without fathers and without hope. It is not enough to fight the gay-rights lobby. We must comfort AIDS patients preparing for a lonely death. It is not enough to support a constitutional amendment banning abortion. We must, in greater numbers, provide young women in trouble with a home and a sympathetic ear.

A century ago, the abortion rate was about the same as it is today. It was reduced, initially, not by laws but by compassionate people and societies who met the needs of women.

A Roman official described the early Christian church to the Emperor Hadrian: ''They love one another; they never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If they have something, they give it freely to the man who has nothing. If they see a stranger, they take him home and are happy as though he were a real brother.''

There is power in that, real power. Why would anyone want to settle for less? The Church has the power to transform our nation into what most of us would like it to be. But it will not do so if it joins another religious crowd which said 2,000 years ago: ''We have no king but Caesar.''

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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